The Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards woke up in time to frustrate the San Juan Knights, 81-75, on Tuesday and salvage their clean slate in the OKbet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) 4th Season presented by Xtreme at the overcrowded Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan City.
Trailing for the most part, the Rice Vanguards dropped 13 points while holding the Knights to a triple in the last 4 minutes to steal their second home victory and climb to 8-0 in the overall standings of the 22-team, 2-division tournament.
Hesed Gabo poured 6 of his 16 points, Will McAloney added 4 of his game-high 24, while Jay Collado canned a 3 in that span to save the game for Nueva Ecija, which got tested to the hilt by San Juan after seven breezy victories.
Showing they are still a force to contend with, the 2019 MPBL Datu Cup champion Knights took away the Rice Vanguards’ run and gun game to lead by as many as 14 points, 52-38, in the third quarter and 68-72, with 4:08 to go.
Apart from McAloney, who made 6 of 7 attempts from the floor and 12 of 13 from the free thow line, and Gabo, who produced 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Rice Vanguards also banked on Michael Juico’s 16-point, 10-rebound effort to pull down the Knights to 3-4.
Nueva Ecija’s rousing comeback spoiled Justin Gutang’s last performance for San Juan this season.
Gutang, who accounted for 12 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals, will be leaving soon to join Changwon LG in the Korean Basketball League.
Mark Acosta had 13 points and Judel Fuentes 10 for San Juan, which held the lead for over 33 minutes.
Trailing, 54-63, at the start of the fourth quarter, the Rice Vanguards fought even harder when head coach Jerson Cabiltes got ejected before the start of the fourth quarter on account of 2 credited technical fouls committed by his players.
The departure of Cabiltes and the very supportive overflow crowd spurred the Rice Vanguards to action under assistant coach Gonzalo Catalan as they poured 27 points in the last 10 minutes against the Knights’ 12.
Other games saw Muntinlupa blow a 23-point lead and settle for a 65-64 squeaker over Bacoor, and Quezon City MG Cars trounce Mindoro, 88-83.
Domark Matillano scored the game’s last 4 points to give Muntinlupa its first win in 2 starts while pulling down Bacoor to 2-3.
Matillano wound up with 20 points and 9 rebounds. followed by John Cantimbulan Jr. with 15 points and 7 assists, Justin Alano with 11 points and 5 rebounds, and Harold Arboleda with 8 points and 12 rebounds.
Bacoor got 13 points from Paolo Castro, 12 from Mark Pangilinan and 9 from Mark Mantuano.
Quezon City, which climbed to 3-3, was led by Jerick Nacpil with 17 points and 7 rebounds, Marlon Monte with 12 points, James Martinez 9 and Marcy Arellano 9 plus 10 assists and 8 rebounds.
Mindoro, which tumbled to 1-7, got 19 points and 10 rebounds from Dariel Bayla, 17 points and 16 rebounds from Larce Sunga, 12 points and 6 assists from Teytey Teodoro and 11 points from Rodel Vaygan.